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Republicans starting to strut their stuff for 2016

November 29, 2014

BOCA RATON, Florida (AP) — A half-dozen potential Republican presidential contenders spent last week peacocking across the sprawling grounds of Florida luxury resort, schmoozing with donors and sizing up the competition in the party’s most fractured field in decades.

The summit felt like a test run for what is increasingly shaping up to be a brutal showdown for the Republican presidential nomination among more than a dozen potential contenders, including a cluster of governors.

While the potential Republican field appears stronger than four years ago, with more than a dozen potential contenders, the Republicans are without a front-runner.

In contrast, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, should she choose to pursue it.

The Republicans are fresh off victorious midterm elections, when the party seized control of the Senate, expanded its majority in the House and swept gubernatorial races across the country. But the panorama for Republicans figures to be more complicated in 2016 when the party must find a way to woo women and minority voters who are increasingly crucial to national elections.

At the Florida event, the Republicans rarely criticized each other in public, but there were subtle jabs.

Within hours of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gracing the cover of a magazine in an illustration of him kissing a baby’s head, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested the party needs bold leaders, not showmen.

“We have enough politicians who try to be celebrities and kiss babies and cut ribbons,” Jindal said.

Whether it was an intentional shot at Christie or not, the looming 2016 contest changed the context of every speech, interview and panel discussion at the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference.

Christie handed over the reigns as the chairman of the RGA at the event, ending what has arguably been a politically life-saving tenure that helped repair his reputation after the political retribution traffic scandal in New Jersey that badly tainted his brand earlier in the year.

During the midterm elections, he raised tens of millions of dollars to help elect Republican governors, boosting his 2016 prospects and broadening his national network.

Jindal has traveled the country laying the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign, including making speeches on military and foreign policy. He has said he is “thinking and praying” about whether to run.

The candidates aren’t expected to start formally declaring their intentions until the first quarter of next year. But the developing tensions were already apparent as five potential candidates appeared together on stage to answer questions from moderator Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s “Meet The Press” — a dress rehearsal of sorts for the looming primary.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich repeatedly crossed words with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Both governors were fresh off re-election victories in the midterms that boosted their national profiles.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry left little doubt that the race is on.

“I think the campaign has engaged. We’re talking about issues here that are going to affect the presidential election in 2016,” Perry said. “I think we need to have this conversation with America.”

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Steven Peoples contributed to this story.

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